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Finding help for the homeless in Temiskaming

'We know that is a very difficult situation to be in'
File photo.

Homelessness, or the risk of homelessness, is a growing problem across the district but a key agency with the role of preventing that scenario is the District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board (DTSSAB) which oversees the district's housing program.  

DTSSAB provides services to assist those who are at risk of homelessness or who are experiencing it, and can help eligible people and their families with basic needs and shelter. There is a housing program provided by DTSSAB, and housing units which have been established as affordable housing. The district-wide agency also provides support and advocates to connect individuals with other agencies who might also be able to assist.

"We work in partnership with all agencies in our area such as CMHA, Timiskaming OPP detachments, the Pavilion Women's Centre, Hope Haven, the Salvation Army, Timiskaming Health Unit, district-wide food banks, addictions services, Blanche River Health, Temiskaming Hospital, the multicultural centre, MP and MPP officers, the legal clinic and others," housing manager Steve Cox stated in an email.

South Temiskaming is now awaiting the completion of a shelter in New Liskeard, expected to be opened in the first week of October.  

Meanwhile the Pavilion Women's Resources Centre in Haileybury has the mandate to assist women and their children who need shelter.

Often, those in need of shelter are women who are experiencing violence or who are at risk of experiencing violence, said executive director Melanie Ducharme in a telephone interview.

"We know women who are homeless or unhoused are at really high risk of violence," she commented. "We know that is a very difficult situation to be in."

She added, "We also know women frequently get kicked out, in quotation marks, because of domestic violence."

It is also known, through the counts done by DTSSAB, "that for many of the people who are homeless in our community, the original cause often goes back to violence in their living situation," she said.

Women experiencing homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless, can call the Pavilion Women's Centre or go directly to their location at 345 Cecil Street in Haileybury, at any time throughout the day or night. The shelter is open 24 hours a day. They can also call (705)672-2128.

When a woman arrives at the centre, staff there will talk with the woman, said Ducharme, "see what supports they might need, and see if we can find them a solution to their problem, at least temporarily, so that they are a little bit safer than they are right now."

Ducharme said the challenge is that the Pavilion is only a temporary shelter.

"I think as a community we all have to work together to provide more affordable housing options and more supportive housing options for those who may just need a little more support moving into housing on their own, so that we don't have a situation where nobody wants to house certain individuals, and landlords are selling off their properties and things like that."

She stated that the Pavilion "can provide some short-term emergency assistance and we also try to participate on a bigger level in terms of ensuring that our community is a place where the resources are available long-term to assist people who are experiencing homelessness."

She noted that Pavilion representatives sit on a number of committees working to building partnerships between all agencies, such as DTSSAB and Canadian Mental Health Association-Cochrane-Timiskaming, as well as the hospitals, police, and Victim Services of Temiskaming and District. "Generally speaking we all have a little bit of a different approach and we may be able to contribute something to assisting that individual," said Ducharme.

She added that helping an individual usually is going to require partnerships between agencies. "It's usually going to take work amongst all of the agencies to assist the person, and I encourage everybody in the community to look at it that way. It really needs to be a collaborative approach if we're going to successfully help individuals who are experiencing that."

Other agencies that can provide guidance and assistance for people in need include the Canadian Mental Health Association-Cochrane-Timiskaming, which has a New Liskeard branch and an open door policy during business hours.  

The Temiskaming Hospital also has a social services desk where those who are hungry, homeless, and those experiencing addiction can receive support and guidance.  

Temiskaming Hospital interim director of diagnostic services, patient relations, privacy officer, and manager of health records Kristin Ethier commented in an email that she feels concern for men seeking shelter. At this time they may be sent to another community where there is a shelter, but there would be no guarantee that there is a bed open at that shelter. The individual would then be in an unfamiliar community, and still without shelter, she pointed out.  

Timiskaming Health Unit public health promoter - communications Maggie Little also commented in an email that at the Timiskaming Health Unit "we are working to address homelessness in our region by advocating for income-based solutions (i.e, basic income guarantee, living wage) and that empower people to have access to safe, affordable housing."

Currently, Hope Haven, located in Kirkland Lake, is a six-bed transitional housing program for men, and has opportunities for life skills development and daily living supports, she said.

Other doors where people can seek those who may know of resources include the offices of Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof, where there are staff who can provide some guidance to find help. They can be found at 247 Whitewood Avenue, Unit 5, or by calling (705)647-5995.

Darlene Wroe is a local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Temiskaming Speaker